Once upon a time, there was a dare-devil armed robber who ‘ruled’ the old Bendel State like a mythical king over a thousand thrones. He was believed to be invincible and had the power to appear and reappear. Some people even risked the heretic postulation that the gangster was a spirit, therefore, immortal. His name conjured so much trepidation that many men fainted at the mere mention of it, no matter how brave.
On ‘duty’, the man was swift, impetuous and impulsively violent. A psychotic who loved the smell of blood and money, he could kill his mother if she stood on his way during operation. He killed his victims, both civilians and policemen, without mercy. He made money through armed robbery and loved the good life-women, wine and sex.
Lawrence Anini was the ‘The Law’. People in Benin City, his operational headquarters, also called him ‘Ovbigbo’. He was the most notorious armed robber Nigeria ever had. He lived for only 27 years but brought an ocean of sorrow that would last an eternity to those ill-fated to cross his path. Anini was fear personified, from the beginning of his reign of terror in the early 1980s, to 1986 when he met his waterloo.
When Anini migrated to Benin City from his village, his manifest aim was to become a professional taxi driver. He realised the dream and was so good on the job that in no time he became king over Benin motor parks. Though his word was law at the parks, he wanted more. Soon, he abandoned the parks and began to drive criminal gangs within the city. From there, he formed his own gang, specialising in carjacking, bus and bank robbery. From that moment hence, Benin City and adjoining towns knew no peace. Anini became a huge nightmare to citizens and law enforcement alike.
Anini’s adventure of blood and death reached a crescendo between August and December 1986 during which he murdered over 10 policemen in cold blood. In August 1986, he and his gang raided First Bank, Sabongida-Ora, and got N2000 loot. He was so livid at the miserly that he shot everyone on sight. Many perished that day, including policemen.
September 6, 1986, Mr. Christopher Omeben, an Assistant Inspector General of Police, almost added to Anini’s morbid statistics of those silenced by his gun. The gangster and his gang not only snatched Omeben’s Peugeot 504 car from his driver, Albert Otoe, they also killed him, and dumped his corpse at a location outside Benin. The driver’s decomposed body was discovered three months later.
October 1, 1986, the notorious gang went for the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Casmir Akagbosu. They ambushed him within Benin, and riddled his car with bullets. The commissioner escaped death by the skin of his teeth but sustained serious injuries.
On his happy days, the blood-mongering robber played the sardonic philanthropist, grimly mocking Robin Hood who robbed the rich to pay the poor. For instance, on October 21, 1986, after robbing and killing a medical doctor, A.O Emojeve, along Textile Mill Road, in Benin, Anini and his gang stormed the Agbor branch of African Continental Bank and stole N46, 000, a huge sum at the time. Then, they drove to a market in a nearby village and sprayed everybody with crispy bank notes. Most of the market men and women thought God visited them with a miracle that day. They hailed the robber on end. They never knew that the devil usually hides behind the cross.
At a point in his evil enterprise, the gangster became so daring and fantastically elusive that he began to prove his primacy in the unholy business. The deviant would write his potential victims, state the exact time he would strike, and he never missed, no matter how thick the security net the police may have woven for him. He would vanish into the thin air. Anini and gang became a big embarrassment to the police high command.
At the height of his murderous reign, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Nigeria’s military president at the time, got so frustrated that one day, he rose from the weekly meeting of the Armed Forces Ruling Council and jolted the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Etim Inyang. With cameras rolling, and journalists writing and recording, IBB asked the befuddled IGP: “My friend, where is Anini?” The flabbergasted police boss mumbled some words, saluted his boss, and left in a huff.
That embarrassing encounter with the Commander-in-Chief became the game changer. On December 3, 1986, Anini met his waterloo. He was caught at No 26, Oyemwosa Street, opposite Iguodala Primary School, Benin City, carousing, as usual, with scarlet ladies.
Once in the net, the villainous wretch began to sing like a canary. That was when the world knew the secret behind Anini’s much touted invincibility. It turned out that the main source of his despicable strength and seeming invincibility were criminals within the police force who he had compromised to aid and abet his evil enterprise with insider information and weapons. Ten police officers, including George Iyamu, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, were tried with Anini and gang. Five of the police officers, including Iyamu, were convicted and executed with Anini and his boys on March 29, 1987.
DSP George Iyamu, the biggest revelation in the Anini saga, was stupendously rich by shielding Anini and his boys, leaking police secrets, and giving them logistical support, including arms, for their operations. By playing the godfather to Anini, Iyamu acquired many houses, exotic cars, wine, and women of variegated shapes, sizes and colours. Buoyed by their blood money, both men compromised the police system and operated freely till they met their nemesis.
Like Anini, Like Wadume
But did the pot simmer after the execution of Anini and his gang? No. It got worse. Since Anini, the DNA of crime and criminality has mutated. Crime has mushroomed into variants and hybrids which eerie nature sometimes addles law enforcement. Today, kidnapping, cattle rustling, cultism, cybercrime, yahoo plus, money ritual, identity theft, and terrorism rule the roost.
But what is the parallel between Lawrence Anini and Hamisu Bala Wadume, the 35-year-old kidnap baron currently singing in police custody in Abuja? You may be tempted to ask. Here is the answer: Like Anini, Wadume started life modestly; as a fish seller. But unlike the notorious robber who was a stark illiterate, he studied up to school certificate level. Like the executed robber, Wadume wanted to make it big through the shortest route possible. So, he plunged into kidnapping. And within two years, he became so rich he built a mansion at Ibi, his homestead in Taraba State, and contested election into the House of Representatives in the 2019 general elections under the banner of the Young Democratic Party, YDP.
Like the iniquitous duo of Anini and George Iyamu, Wadume was somewhat invincible and untouchable. He spent big, ‘empowered’ people with heavy cash, bought motorcycles for hundreds of youths, and spoilt law officers and security personnel silly. And they reciprocated by giving him protection. In fact, it has been revealed that the Crime Officer and Station Officer in Ibi Police Station, as well as a certain army Captain collaborated extensively with Wadume in his criminal enterprise. On the surface, the kidnap king was seen as a ‘nice guy’ because of his generosity. But in real life, he was a big time criminal who turned Taraba State to a huge hell, abducting people at will. That was until his chicken finally came home to roost on Monday, August 19, 2019. His capture came at a great cost to Nigeria.
For a fact, Wadume’s journey to the abyss began with his initial capture on August 6, 2019, when operatives of the Inspector General of Police’s elite Intelligence Response Team, IRT, from the police headquarters, Abuja, swooped on him at Ibi. But while being transported to the Taraba State Police Headquarters in Jalingo, the capital, for documentation and initial interrogation prior to his eventual transfer to Abuja, troops of the 93 Battalion based in Takum shot out like a bolt from the blues along the Ibi-Wukari Road, pursued the police team and their trophy, Hamisu Wadume, and opened fire.
Though the valorous police team stood their ground during the fire-fight, the soldiers succeeded in setting Wadume free. By the time the dust generated by the attack settled, three of the finest investigators the Nigeria Police Force ever had, and two civilian police informants, had been callously murdered. Several other cops sustained serious injuries.
In his tribute to the fallen officers, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, described Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeant Usman Danzumi, and Sergeant Dahiru Musa, as the “best and most highly trained IRT teams” in the country. Among their diadems, the troika were in the team that arrested Umar Abdulmalik, a Boko Haram commander; and 22 Boko Haram terrorists responsible for the 2014 abduction of 276 school girls in Chibok, Borno State. The trio were also involved in the busting of the another kidnap baron, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, alias Evans, in 2017; and contributed immensely to the rescue, early July, of Musa Umar Uba, an in-law of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was in a kidnappers’ den for two months.
The Nigerian Army’s initial response to the Taraba tragedy exposed a bigger subterfuge than Nigerians ever witnessed since Anini. In a release riddled with gaping holes, and which raised some fundamental questions, the army, through its Director of Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, turned the murdered operatives to criminals and made a saint of Hamisu Wadume, the millionaire kidnap baron. Even after it had been proved beyond reasonable doubts that they were police operatives on covert operation, Musa still referred to the slain cops as “suspected kidnappers” four times in his release. Peeing on the graves of the dead cops, did you say? Sad.
The army claimed that its troops, responding to a distressed call to rescue a kidnap victim, pursued, shot and killed the ‘suspected kidnappers’ because of their “flagrant refusal…to stop at the three checkpoints. …It was only after this avoidable outcome that one of the wounded suspects disclosed the fact that they were indeed policemen dispatched from Nigerian Police, Force Headquarters, Abuja, for a covert assignment.”
The police pooh-poohed the army’s attempt at self-righteousness, asserting that the team followed standard operational procedure during the ill-fated mission. It also raised some fundamental questions about the disappearance of Wadume who was ‘rescued’ by the soldiers; how the
kidnap suspect properly restrained with handcuffs and leg chain managed to ‘escape’ from the hands of his military ‘rescuers’; and why Wadume, the supposed ‘victim of kidnap’ was not taken to the Army Base for documentation purposes and debriefing in sync with the Standard Operating Procedure in the Nigerian Army? Most importantly, why shoot the police operatives at close range even after they had identified themselves as police officers on legitimate duty as evident in the video that went viral? Questions.
That spine-chilling video and Wadume provided the answers, and more, after he was smoked out of his hideout at Layin Mai Allo Hotoro area of Kano State on Monday, August 19, 2019. If you have seen the video and it didn’t make you mad, nothing will. The gory pictures showed that the police officers were deliberately wasted, and the murderers did so with the kind of bestiality and savagery that the world saw during the bitter liberation war in Belgian Congo in the 1960s.
After the attack, the murderous gang not only stood by and watched the operatives die, they also encouraged the villagers to further debase the murdered patriots by joining in dragging their brutalised bodies on the tar into a military van. The sadistic soldiers even stretched the barbarity to a realm that would make Satan scream in righteous indignation. They drew down the boxers of the last soldier to die and exposed the defecation on his body, a direct result of the extreme pain and agony they inflicted on him. Such callousness. And all because a son of the gun had compromised the soldiers and their bosses to get him off the hook at all cost.
Before the petrifying video surfaced, Wadume had admitted, under interrogation, that the soldiers who assisted him to escape took him to their base where they invited a welder to come and yank of his handcuff and leg chain. And he returned to his home to continue enjoying his loot. Then, he slipped out of sight. For two weeks, nobody knew the fugitive’s whereabouts; until the IRT smoked him out of his hellhole in Layin Mai Allo Hotoro community in Kano State.
Even in the absence of the anticipated report of the DIG Mike Ogbizi’s Joint Investigation Panel, which Colonel Musa counselled Nigerians to await before drawing conclusions, there are copious evidences of criminal collusion, sabotage and premeditated murder on the part of the soldiers that committed the atrocious act. For instance, investigations revealed that there were 191 telephone conversations between Wadume and a yet-to-be-named Army Captain between July 9, 2019, and August 6, 2019.
Second, the self-same Army Captain was believed to have been providing cover for the suspected kidnap baron; and had reportedly received hundreds of millions of naira as ransom from victims. He and five other soldiers are already telling investigators all they know about the heinous crime at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja. Does that remind you of Lawrence Anini and George Iyamu?
Thirdly, investigations have also revealed that the Crime Officer at Ibi Police State made over 200 phone calls to the suspected kidnapper while the station officer was discovered to have yanked off the entry made by the ill-fated IRT team. They did that to destroy the evidence that the IRT operatives actually reported the operation to arrest Wadume at the station in conformity with the police standard operating procedure.
Finally, and contrary to the claim by the army that there was no proper coordination between the police and sister agencies on ground, a report revealed that the IRT team followed all standard operational procedures on the mission. Which was why when they were going for Wadume, they reportedly had a smooth passage at all the checkpoints; they even had friendly chats with the soldiers. The situation, according to the report, was almost replicated on their return trip, with Wadume in their net.
They reportedly had friendly passage at the first and second checkpoints. But between the second and the third check points, an Army Captain had supposedly instructed soldiers at the third checkpoint to halt the team and free the “kidnap victim”. That was when all hell broke loose.
The Taraba tragedy has thrown up several issues. One, it has reinforced the long-held belief that there are reprobates within the services, especially the army and the police, who would readily swap their allegiance to the flag with filthy lucre from criminals without. They trade in insider information, leak operational strategies to criminals and enemies of the state, and put their colleagues, the service and the state in serious jeopardy. Several of these cases have been reported in the past even in Nigeria’s war against the Boko Haram insurgency.
The second is the dirty interagency rivalry that makes the services work at cross-purposes, causing unmitigated harm to the very society they are paid to protect. Peripherally, the Wadume saga would have fitted smugly into this category as a classical example of rivalry between the police and the army. Had Wadume not started singing, we would have perfectly agreed with Colonel Musa that, on this extant matter, there was no proper coordination between the police and sister agencies on ground. But that hypothesis falls flat in the face of the stunning revelations from the video and the kidnap tycoon’s confessions.
Even if there was 120 percent coordination across the command structures of all the sister agencies in Taraba State, the story may not have been substantially different because of the Judases within.
The third, which is closely related to the first, is the craze for primitive acquisitions on the part of officers and men in the services, a situation that has made many of them sell their souls to the devil. The fourth is the huge deficit in personnel, especially in the police force, which necessitates the drafting of soldiers to police duties, especially internal security. We saw a plethora of that during the 2019 general elections.
With the current staff strength of 371, 800 of the Nigeria Police Force, the principal law enforcement agency in the country. Nigeria is grossly under-policed. Without huge investment in technology and effective intelligence gathering mechanism, the ongoing efforts to increase the force’s personnel to 650,000 may still not meet the security needs of Nigeria, a nation of 201million people. We need to do more. But to prevent the incursion of criminals and other unscrupulous elements into the force, there must be rigorous background check of each recruit to ascertain their mental, psychological, physical and moral wellness.
The Taraba tragedy has, once again, exposed the continual degradation of our values as Nigerians. It has brought shame to our fatherland and attracted to us the opprobrium of the civilised world. That is why government must leave no stone unturned in speedily bringing to justice those who brought this disapprobation to our country.
It is said that if you help a thief, you are as horrible as the thief. The actions of the Army Captain and his accomplices, both in the army and the police, are as despicable as those of Wadume, their paymaster. They deserve the same fate as Wadume. Even worse because they betrayed the trust of the people from whose sweat they are paid to protect the country. They turned the guns bought from the sweat of tax payers against the hapless citizens by aiding and abetting their abductions. The hottest part of hell should be reserved for them. Like in the case of Anini and Iyamu, I pray the prosecution will ask for the death penalty for them whenever their trial eventually commences.
They are merciless; they deserve no mercy.
God bless Nigeria.